I returned home on Thursday to a blinking answering machine. Awaiting me was a message from "Cindy" who left her return number but felt no need to explain the purpose of her call. I was feeling magnanimous after the whole hitchhiker episode, so I called her back.
Cindy informed me that she was calling from Duke Hospital (I was going to change the name of the institution to protect the guilty but, let's face it, I live in Durham and have a rare autoimmune disease where else would I get my care?). I immediately felt my eyes rolling in my head. "You have nine unpaid balances," she explained.
"I get a different bill from the PDC (Private Diagnostic Clinic) every other week, The amounts are always different. I never know if the bills are cumulative or separate. Then I get a refund check out of nowhere. It is impossible to figure out what I owe you."
"Actually I am calling from the hospital."
The clinics and hospital have separate billing systems just to keep it all interesting. "I've only received two bills from Duke Hospital in the last 6 months and, again, I do not know if they are cumulative or separate." Then I had an idea, "Look, I want to pay my bills. It would be really helpful for me if you could print all the bills, put them together in one 9 x 12 envelope and send them to me. That way I can compare them with my "Explanation of Benefits" from the insurance company, (because Duke always charges me for things they aren't supposed to charge me for) and pay the correct amount.
"I'm sorry Ma'am, we cannot do that."
"What do you mean?"
"We cannot print all the bills and send them in one envelope."
Somewhere in my brain a gasket blew.
"Are you kidding me? Can you explain this to me? You physically cannot print the bills? You don't have any 9 x 12 envelopes? You cannot stuff the bills into an envelope? What is it that you cannot do?"
"It's not our policy to do that."
That's when I lost it.
"I continued to be amazed by the infinite incompetence of this institution. It's as if you actually do not want to be paid. Here I am with a life threatening illness, being fed by a tube to stay alive, and I have to deal with this nonsense from this place. All I am asking for is all my bills in one envelope to I can pay you."
"I'll have to get permission from my supervisor."
"Then put your supervisor on the phone," I said through gritted teeth. Twelve years of dealing with this and it still astounds me. How can something so simple be made so incredibly complicated. "I'll try to find her," She responded. First she couldn't find her, so I waited patiently. Then she found her and said she'd be right on the line, but that never happened. "I'm sorry she seems to be on another call," Cindy responded. Finally Cindy came on the line and told me her supervisor had given approval to send me all my bills in one envelope.
Lest you all think I am some evil ogre, I want you to know that I did at one point tell Cindy that I understood it wasn't her fault. "I'm just so tired of this," I explained.
"So I will take care of that and you should receive it in 7-10 business days," Cindy informed me before hanging up the phone. I guess someone is walking it here or, perhaps, sending it by carrier pigeon from Outer Mongolia.